Partisan statements erode public trust

POLITICAL pronouncements by the Commissioner of Prisons Paradzai Zimondi and Information ministry permanent secretary George Charamba undermine the electorate’s confidence in public officials and is damaging to democracy, analysts said this week.

The analysts said public officers should desist from taking political sides and try to force their stance upon the electorate, especially when elections are around the corner.

Zimondi, a retired army major-general, last Thursday said he would not salute opposition presidential hopefuls Simba Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai should either of them emerge victorious in this month’s poll.

Charamba on the other hand hijacked the leadership of the Zanu PF information department from Nathan Shamuyarira last week and rubbished Makoni and Tsvangirai’s election manifestos as inspired by the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA) passed by the US Congress in 2001.

Noel Kututwa, the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (Zesn) chairperson, said Zimondi and fellow service chiefs and public officials should not dabble in politics.

“Service chiefs and public officials interested in politics must resign and join parties of their choice,” Kututwa said. “In a democracy, service chiefs and public officials are there to serve the people, not an individual as pronounced by Zimondi.”

Political scientist Michael Mhike said statements by public officers erode democracy and were meant to cow the electorate into voting for Mugabe and Zanu PF in the March 29 elections.

“A dangerous precedent was set when service chiefs in 2002 made remarks similar to that of Zimondi and nothing was done to them,” Mhike said. “Police commissioner-general (Augustine) Chihuri also declared that he was a staunch supporter of Mugabe and Zanu PF and again nothing happened to him.”–Constantine Chimakure

He said party functionaries should not run the country’s civil service and uniformed forces.

The Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC reacted angrily to Zimondi’s utterances and described them as reckless.

“Any utterances that seek to undermine the people’s will are an assault on the fabric of democracy and the expression of free will,” MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said. “Zimondi should resign as an individual rather than try and coerce the entire disciplined force into a rebellion on account of Mugabe’s imminent and inevitable defeat on March 29.”

Chamisa said it was shocking that Zimondi ordered his subordinates to vote for Mugabe in defiance of the world norm that uniformed forces in a democracy were guided by the “compass of the sovereign will of the people”.

“Our uniformed forces should be loyal to the country’s laws and its people and not individuals,” he said. “Reckless utterances like the one made by Zimondi invite a forced exit from national service.”

The party said it was an affront to the country’s constitution for a service chief to tell officers to vote for a particular candidate in an election.

“There is no shadow of doubt anymore that we have become a banana republic where the collective will of the people is not respected…His statement is a coup on the constitutional order. It is intended to intimidate the people of Zimbabwe against voting for their preferred candidate in this month’s election. It confirms that there is no guarantee to a free and fair election,” Chamisa said.

Other analysts said politicisation of the uniformed forces and the civil service should not be tolerated and must be proscribed.

On the eve of the 2002 presidential elections, retired army general Vitalis Zvinavashe and other service chiefs told a press conference that uniformed forces would not back anyone who did not have liberation war credentials.

The chiefs’ view was seen as an attack on Tsvangirai who Mugabe and his government accused of deserting from the war.

Zimondi made his pronouncement at a function in Harare to confer new ranks on 14 senior prison officers promoted recently by Mugabe.

The prison boss said: “If the opposition wins the election, I will be the first one to resign from my job and go back to defend my piece of land. I will not let it go. We are going to the elections and you should vote for President Mugabe.”

He ordered officers to vote for Mugabe and Zanu PF.

“I am giving you an order to vote for the president. Do not be distracted. The challenges we are facing are just a passing phase,” Zimondi said. “I will only support the leadership of President Mugabe. I will not salute them (Makoni and Tsvangirai).”

Charamba said Makoni and Tsvangirai’s manifestos were derived from ZDERA.

“Read ZDERA and you will know who the father of Tsvangirai and Makoni is. Their land policies betray their parentage and are direct extracts from Section 5 of ZDERA, word for word in many respects,” Charamba said. “Both (Tsvangirai and Makoni) are tantalised by the US$20 million waved by (US President George W) Bush in 2001,” he said.

He also attacked former Home Affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa on behalf of Zanu PF when the politburo member on Saturday in Bulawayo backed Makoni’s presidential aspirations.

“What is Dabengwa worth by way of supporters?” Charamba questioned. “He brought none to Zanu PF, he takes none to the independent. The people of Nkulumane had long (ago) rejected him anyway.”

Writing in the Zimbabwe Independent in January, Kudzai Mbudzi — a former Zanu PF Masvingo provincial information officer and now backing Makoni’s campaign strategy — accused Charamba of trying to be a “Lenin” of Zimbabwe’s revolution through the abuse of his official position and the public media.

Mbudzi, urging Charamba to be ethical,
said his “position as a senior civil servant prohibits him from openly bragging about his political orientation as he is required to be apolitical”.

He added: “He must be reminded that he is not a permanent secretary to the revolution, but to cabinet, which tomorrow might change to include me.”

Last Friday, Charamba was clad in Zanu PF regalia during the launch of the party’s 2008-election manifesto.